First name basis with students?

Barb said: Mar 25, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Hi parents and teachers. I would like to know your thoughts and experiences with calling a teacher by a first name versus a more formal title. It seems to me a lot of music teachers here in our area are called by their first name. What is the standard where you are, and do you think it makes a difference?

In our schools I believe all elementary teachers are called by a title such as Mr. or Ms. along with their last name. A few high school teachers may have the students call them by their first name. The teaching assistants usually have the students call them by their first names. The teaching assistants as well as the teachers have playground duty, and I’ve heard that the assistants complain that they are not given the same respect or position of authority as the teachers. Could it be the first name basis plays a part?

One church we attended when our kids were young had the students call the teachers by their first name, but with a title to show respect. “Mrs. Sue” for example. I always thought this sounded a little funny, but I liked it better than having my four year old just call a teacher by her first name.

Our piano teachers were quite young when they were teaching our kids. When I asked the first one what she preferred, she said it didn’t matter. We chose, “Miss” and her last name. I think the second one must have started off introducing herself by her first name, and by then the boys were in their teens, so they seemed closer in age, so we went with first name. I’m not sure if it affected their respect or not—they didn’t continue with lessons much longer after changing teachers.

My kids were also in a cadet program when they were teens, and in that organization most of the adults were officers and rank and last name were used, indeed the cadets were also required to use “sir” and “ma’am”. The other adults who were not officers were addressed as Mr. or Mrs. etc.

Maybe I am only a little old fashioned in having my students use my title and last name, but I think it helps to put me in a position of authority to them, much like a school teacher. Also, my husband is a school teacher, and if I should ever get any of his students, it just makes sense that if he is “Mr.”, then I will be “Mrs.”.

Oh, I do have adult students call me by my first name, and have given an almost 18 year old student the choice. And I have had one parent who continually referred to me by my first name to her son. I did have more trouble with him, but I don’t know if it had anything to do with that or not.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Does using a title and last name give a teacher more authority or respect? Do you think there is a benefit to being on a first name basis?

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Kiyoko said: Mar 26, 2013
 84 posts

Subtle but interesting topic. I think it depends on the teacher and teacher’s personal style of teaching.

Personally, I like title and the first name best for younger children at least until they become established students. It creates enough formality that the sense of respect is conveyed but still conveys the familiarity many like to develop to ease teaching young children. My friends with young children also tend to go by title and first name as manner of teaching their children to be respectful of adults. That said, I have had a few teachers who I never would have dreamed of addressing by first name or even to this day, but I connected well with so it’s not a strict preference. (In my mind, Mr. Villasurda will always be Mr. Villasurda.) Once the teaching relationship is established, the basis for respect goes far beyond what you call each other.

For older students, I think it depends on the teaching environment, teacher, and student. But I also went to an alternative high school where we called our teachers by first name. It was a place where teachers cared about their students as a whole person and the familiarity established by being on a first name basis did reinforce it.

There is a flipside. I am reminded of how in the IT industry, women are often introduced and referred to by first name by their male counterparts regardless of level of familiarity, but men are more often addressed with titles and last name. For some, it creates a distasteful assumptive familiarity with women in the field and can unintentionally reinforce gender bias.

In Japan, all of my Suzuki teachers were addressed as “Sensei”, teacher in Japanese and there is a firm sense of cuturally bound respect that hoes with it. From a young age, japanese children are taught that anyone who is a teacher is accorded the greatest respect, because they have given their life to teaching others—that society is indebted to teachers for their sacrifices.

So for me, it depends on the environment and context, especially the nature of the interaction, level of authority, respect, and familiarity you’d like to convey.

Gretchen said: Mar 29, 2013
Gretchen Lee
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
State College, PA
28 posts

I agree— it depends on the environment and context. My young students call me Miss Gretchen. My older students call me Gretchen.

When I was teaching in a public school orchestra program, the kids called me Mrs. Lee/Ms. Lee, which felt weird to me, but was normal in a school environment.

With my own students, I always introduce myself as Gretchen, so that’s what the students and parents call me. I call parents by their first names as well. I never really thought about the pros and cons of being on a first name basis, and never thought about the issue of respect. I act and dress professionally, so I am usually treated as such. I just prefer to be called by my first name.

Barb said: Mar 29, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thanks for your thoughts!

I’m on a first name basis with parents, too.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Sue Hunt said: Mar 30, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

I am also on first name basis with both students and teachers. When I was a child, I went to a progressive boarding school where we called many of the teachers by their first names. Some preferred Mr or Mrs. It was interesting that this in no way correlated with our respect for each individual as a teacher.

Michele Satanove said: Apr 2, 2013
Michele Satanove
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Roberts Creek, BC
2 posts

My students all call me by my first name. In my case, I would never use Miss Satanove, simply because it’s a beast to pronounce correctly! I suppose I could have them call me Miss Michele or Teacher Michele (what we used in Music for Young Children, which I no longer teach). But I prefer to be called by my given name.

And I have kind of the opposite situation to Barb’s in terms of consistency: I live in an intentional community where all the kids address the adults by their first names. It’s just how we’ve always done it. So it would be very strange to get one of the community kids as a student and insist she address me with a title in the studio when she would not do so in the community.

I think it’s more accepted now and not considered disrespectful to address people by their first names. I know my mother, when she was still alive, detested being called into a doctor’s office by a receptionist using her first name. She wanted to be called Mrs. Satanove! But I personally have no such issues.


Michele Satanove
Music-Words-Health
- cello & piano teacher
- nonfiction editor
- health coach
604-740-0423

Ian Salmon said: Apr 3, 2013
Ian Salmon
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Addison, TX
21 posts

Interesting topic indeed. At my Suzuki in the Schools program, I am Mr. Salmon. At my home studio, I am Mr. Ian. I appreciate the slightly formal Mr, but always admired teachers that could break away from total package. Especially in the youngest of twinklers, I think that using a first name makes me a bit less intimidating. At over 6 ft, I sometimes have trouble opening up the comfort zone of a 3 year old. :)

Ian Salmon
Violin and Viola Instructor
Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas
www.SuzukiMusicDallas.org

Barb said: Apr 3, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thanks for the additional thoughts.

Michelle, that is very interesting—I’ll have to find out more about Roberts Creek.

Your mother’s experience reminded me that probably the first time I was called “Mrs.” was when my first child was born—the nurses in the hospital addressed us mothers on the ward with the formal title and last name and it seemed weird—they were older than we were.

Ian, do you have any students who study with you in school and at your home?

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Ian Salmon said: Apr 3, 2013
Ian Salmon
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Addison, TX
21 posts

Barb,
No, our district (as do most in TX), has a strict no-conflict policy. I do teach a handful of students that have graduated from my elementary program and are now at the junior high/high school level. But, the majority of my private studio (22 students in all), are actually from neighboring cities/private schools.

On an aside, I really like this policy. Especially in the band world, where being drum major can so greatly affect a prospective college musicians career path. I like to know that they are at least attempting to keep things merit based.

Ian Salmon
Violin and Viola Instructor
Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas
www.SuzukiMusicDallas.org

Barb said: Apr 4, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Interesting, Ian. I had never heard of such no-conflict policies, but I can see what you mean for the older (band) students. I took private lessons from my elementary school violin teacher for a few years. I don’t THINK it was a problem… It bothered me a bit in high school, though, when he seemed to “claim” some of us whom he had started. He took the orchestra job my last year of high school. I also thought that it might have been better for students to have more than one violin/orchestra teacher for those who went through his elementary, middle AND high school program… and possibly private lessons as well? My husband taught general music and band in a very small town for a while—the only music teacher in the two schools, so I can also now say it might have been better for the TEACHER to not have the same students for so many years. :-) (No, he didn’t teach privately.)

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

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